Fereshteh (Fery) Haghighi fled from her upper-class, privileged life in Tehran to find political asylum in the United States during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Aided by a letter from Washington state politician Tom Foley, the Haghighi family eventually found its way to Spokane, to join Fery’s brother, who works as a medical doctor here.
“When we were in Iran, I didn’t need to work. But I loved to throw parties for friends and I loved to cook for them,” Haghighi reminisces of her upper-class status in Iran which came with the luxuries of servants and cooks. “When we came here, I had to figure out what to do. In Iran, we used to enjoy a lot of French pastries. We had been to France and I studied French baking.”
She saw that croissants were popular in metropolitan cities like New York and Los Angeles, but the people in Spokane were still unfamiliar with them, for the most part. So Haghighi put on an apron and got to work to help her family get back on its feet. She dusted off her cookbooks and notes, spending hours in the kitchen baking traditional French pastries and pulling espresso shots, which were also new to Spokane at the time.
With financial help from her brother, Haghighi opened a bakery called Au Croissant in downtown Spokane in the early 80s, introducing the French-influenced baking repertoire that she had amassed over the years. As baguettes and other French breads were added to the menu, the shop quickly grew in popularity and several local restaurants started ordering their breads at wholesale.
“There were lines out the door because people loved the taste and the texture even if they did not know what croissants were. They called my husband Mr. Croissant, because they thought that was his name,” she laughs.
But by the mid-90’s, American diet trends favored low-carb and low-cholesterol foods, and the popularity of butter-rich French pastries took a dive. Au Croissant suffered from a drastic decrease in sales, forcing the Haghighi family to shut down the bakery and pivot their operation.
“After we closed Au Croissant, I was trying to figure out what to do. My husband told me not to do food anymore, but I said to him, ‘that’s all I know how to do.’ So I decided to offer people healthier food, like salads,” Haghighi says, “and then we decided to move to this small building and we started to do some catering.” Fery’s Catering and Take-Out opened its doors shortly thereafter. With the new operation, Haghighi has been able to expand her food repertoire to more healthy and savory options and introduce Spokane to the Persian cuisine that is most dear to her heart. Iranian delicacies like the herb stew ghormeh sabzi, beef or lamb kabob koobideh, and crispy tahdig rice with saffron and sumac became staples in her rotating weekly menu that people were able to pick up as individual servings to-go, or call in advance to order larger quantities for group gatherings or events.
“When we came here, there were only chain restaurants. If we wanted to go somewhere fancy, we went to the Spokane Club,” Haghighi recalls. “Spokane has come such a long way since then. I think we helped people realize that they can do different things than what they’re used to and explore different foods,” she states about her contribution to diversifying the town’s culinary atmosphere.
Now with over 20 years in business, Fery’s Catering is consistently voted one of the top catering companies in Spokane by wedding vendors and others in the local hospitality industry, but her charm, warm heart and delicious take-out food are what keep people knocking at her door day after day.
story and photos by ari nordhagen